Melissa Harris-Perry | February 10, 2013
>>> as we brace for valentine's day and its overt commercialization of romantic love . the mos romantic couple is not in hollywood, but the white house . they have a palpable attraction to each other. admiration and magnatism. their affection, i believe, carries a cultural weight. they have an african- american family . in a cultural context that azests black women are unlovable, unattractive, the obamas are surprisingly aspirational. president obama as a highly accomplished interracial man shows us his wife, a woman as tall as him, as smart as him and as blare kelly would say, black from a distance. it makes the first marriage one that carries particular cultural weight. back with me at the table, laura, byron and victoria. i gotta tell you, i forget president obama likes michelle .
>> i think it's powerful. it sends a powerful message to a lot of people, especially black people , black women who love the iconography of the first family. i know so many people who post pictures and tweet and have physical pictures in their home of the first family because they resinate for people. it is aspirational. people long to have that kind of, sort of happy household that the obama 's seem to have.
>> it's part of what becomes problematic. our saying is we are not the obama 's, right? it took us two marriages to get together. we have a step kid and it's just messier. we want to embrace that. there's something about the realities of same-sex love and making a family in ways that are non-traditional and i wonder if it's used as a weapon against the non-traditional family.
>> i think there's a particular strategy the obama family themselves are deploying. they are staving off an old school narrative of black pathology. the kind of deadbeat dad , obama articulated a position against. also embodies -- i feel like they are the living version of the cosby fiction or the kind of bad, black mother that michelle is staving off the stereo types. in terms of other issues gender and sexuality intersection, we could open the conversation beyond the obama family structure. it is the father and the mother. i think there's equality in the private sphere . he's president of the united states and she's first lady. they are not equal jobs.
>> i have heard her say --
>> it's partly the picture does not reflect their family.
>> yeah. the iconography of it.
>> what it takes to keep a family together and in work when crisis hits. what it takes to keep that family together is -- for some reason, never in the pictures. michelle 's brother, craig. the family is not the foursome.
>> i wish we would see change.
>> it's removed from reality. divorce rates are at 50%. it's about the mom and the family now. looking at our past presidents, how many of our past presidents, with the exception of ronald reagan had been divorced? it's a very aspirational model that we have in looking at the first families. do we really look up to the first families or like to believe we look up to first families?
>> i feel like for the obama 's there's an actual looking up to. part of it is, you know, because of social media and the iconography. we see people deploying images. at one point, the first family was standing there, greeting guests at the white house and bo the dog was there. the president managed to make the dog sit. oh, man, everyone the dog is trained. it does feel like there is something powerful in a country that is said this is an impossibility for these families. i agree, i want to see momma robinson in the pictures. she's part of what makes this foursome possible. it's a fifth person.
>> i hate to be a downer here. they have a campaign raising huge alarms about the nras ad involving the first family. there's a picture, an ad to say it's wrong for president obama to have secret service for the girls and there's not a shooter in every classroom. they are reminding us while we say a lot of people look up to us, this is a family receiving 400% more death threats than the bush family ever did. 30 a day according to a book that was written. just for a moment, remember, they are both looked up to and there's something else going on.
>> can i jump in, too? this is why it's important for barack obama to come out in favor of marriage equality . in 2008 , he was conservative on it. the famous father's day speech he gave in the black church . he spoke to a single parent household where african-american fathers were absent. this notion or flexible families in a way fmla supports that stuff.
>> it's interesting. i had an opportunity to interview the president for "ebony" magazine. i thought he was distancing himself from black fathers. there were a couple of moments of president obama dropping the president and just being barack obama and one of them was when he talked about fathers. i have to say, good, bad, otherwise, there's an actual thing in him that says -- on that, there's little flexibility. a long supporter of marriage equality . on this question of fathers, he deeply feels this sense of the need for the black father in the household.
>> i mean he does. he models that. it's one thing i have to say i appreciate about him because of the way he talks about his daughters. he shows care for his daughters. you can tell he is as president as he can be with his children considering he's president of the united states . i know for me, as an african-american man, he represents a healthy masculinity on many levels. for me, it makes me step up my game in terms of my fatherhood and my desire to be president, to be loving and caring and nurturing to my daughter and wife as well. i think he makes some men step up their game. a lot of men feel like they can't live up to him or measure up to being a barack obama .
>> i will just say, on the single momma front, the president himself is a great president and father, the man who became president became president with a single momma and grandparents. there's clearly, if we read the obama story more fully, it's him as the great father but also he is a product of a single momma who remarries, going around getting her own education, wondering around the globe and relying on her parents. there's many models.
>> i think why these images resinate with so many people, especially black people is because we don't see this much. we don't see it often. because we don't see it often, we get drunk on the images.
>> it may not represent reality for the most of us, you know, we still, i think we said aspire to it. the reality is that, you know, we have so many blended families . we have gaye families, we have mommas and daddies and papas. the culture is changing.
>> i'll take it. it's valentine's